International Women's Day spotlight: 9 thoughts on leadership from women in the healthcare industry

In honor of International Women's Day March 8, Becker's Hospital Review asked women in the healthcare industry to share their insights on leadership.

Here are nine women who offered words of advice for healthcare leaders.

If you'd like to share additional leadership advice, please email Morgan Haefner at or Mackenzie Bean at

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Nadina J. Rosier, PharmD, health & benefits practice leader for pharmacy at Willis Towers Watson North America. "Learn to say no.  I find that women in business are often too eager to say yes at their own career expense. As you navigate your career and understand your value, women should not overburden themselves with lower-value tasks. Know your value, specifically where you make a difference and have impact, and say yes to those high-value opportunities. It will reap rewards for your employer and your career."   

Peyton Howell, executive vice president and president of health systems & specialty care solutions at AmerisourceBergen. "I recently read a book called, 'Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,' which resonated with me and reaffirmed my core beliefs about leadership and success. For me, there are two key ingredients to sustained success: displaying 'grit' and embracing your unique traits and perspectives. As a female leader, and — in some cases — the only woman in the room, you will experience moments when you feel like you are different or alone. In those moments, remember your authentic passion and 'grit' makes you unique and an asset. In fact, I actively seek out these characteristics in leaders on my own team. It takes courage to showcase these traits, but it exists within all of us."

Jennifer Alvey, senior vice president and CFO at Indiana University Health (Indianapolis). "Great leaders take the time to mentor. I've been shaped by mentors who've challenged me and taught me to grow through direct and actionable feedback. I always appreciate the opportunity to grow stronger in my own role and find mentoring others to be most rewarding. I am continuously inspired by their growth as they embrace feedback and use it to grow in their own leadership roles. The determination our leaders demonstrate to propel themselves and the organizations they support to greatness is a constant motivation to me."

Patty Maysent, CEO of UC San Diego Health. "Women have always been the cornerstone of healthcare, but we are seeing significant growth in the number of women in leadership roles, as physician scientists and senior executives. At UC San Diego Health, our CFO, general counsel, chief human resources officer, chief clinical officer, CMO, chief marketing officer and chief administrators of our cardiovascular and cancer centers are all women. I think one of the most important lessons I have learned — and what I would pass on — is to find and focus on what you love and be willing to commit fully to achieving your aspirations."

Rita Numerof, PhD, president of Numerof & Associates, a healthcare consulting firm. "I've been blessed to have been raised in a family committed to exacting standards and the expectation that excellence was the goal in pretty much everything my brother and I did. My father was a scientist/executive at a major pharmaceutical company and my strong-willed, opinionated and very traditional mother cared deeply about those around her. The combination instilled in me a passion for excellence, insatiable curiosity, a perpetual quest for something better, a genuine desire to make a difference and a belief in my ability to succeed. The most successful leaders — female and male — are able to create passion for their vision of what's possible and harness the energy and creativity of the people around them to do more than they might even have expected they could achieve on their own. For me, leadership is less about male or female than it is about the clarity of vision and the ability to excite people to achieve it. Believe in yourself and what's possible."

Karen Way, health plan analytics and consulting practice lead at Plano, Texas-based NTT DATA Services. "There are three concepts I have tried to follow in my career I would offer as advice. The first is to persevere with flexibility. In the healthcare IT world, there are always going to be people who challenge you or tell you no. Find ways to address and resolve the challenges and offer alternatives that result in a positive response. Using this process, you're likely to learn something new, as well as build relationships that will benefit you long term. The second is to stand in front of your team; lead by example. Demonstrate you will take accountability for the team, while at the same time ensuring each team member is accountable for their portion of the whole. The last, and likely most important, is to encourage and mentor your team members to be more successful than yourself. There's a great sense of accomplishment in knowing you've helped the next generation be able to adapt and excel in the ever-changing healthcare industry."

Christy Dempsey, MSN, RN, CNO of Press Ganey. "I graduated from college as a nurse in 1985. It was a largely female profession and there was a shortage of nurses. I was able to get a job quickly and immediately sought ways to grow, learn and advance both my education and my career ambitions. I progressed through the traditional charge nurse, manager and director roles, but found competition a bit more prevalent when I ventured into administrative and executive roles. However, I knew I not only could lead in that way, but also that I was the best and most qualified person for the job. That confidence was invaluable, but the willingness to take a risk is what put me where I am today. There have been many times in my professional life when my job was safe and comfortable — I could have stayed in my comfort zone, but I didn’t. When I saw an opportunity, I took it, even when it was scary to take the risk. Passion for what you do, as well as perseverance to do what you know is right is only part of the journey. It's taking those calculated risks — taking yourself out of your comfort zone — that yields the amazing opportunities to learn and grow."

Kathleen Ellmore, managing director of Engagys, a healthcare engagement consultancy in Nashua, N.H. "I always tell women you can have it all but you can't necessarily do it all. Don't be afraid to focus on what you love and where you can contribute the greatest value and let others help on the tasks that are not in your wheelhouse. We sometimes feel compelled to own it all, and that is not sustainable for the long term.
"I mentor other women in their career goals as a side hobby. One of the areas I focus on is helping them tell their story in a way that promotes their strengths and takes ownership of their accomplishments. I am always surprised when I see women who are pretty established in their careers still not comfortable taking credit for their accomplishments. Tell your story and own all of your terrific achievements!

"Finally, there is something I like to call the Path of Most Resistance. Women who are balancing many demands in life — such as family, senior parents and a career — sometimes feel they cannot succeed in their careers because of the additional demands they are facing. Instead, I believe those extra challenges are crafting character and leadership in a way the easier routes in life don't allow for. Embrace your challenges and realize you are growing from them and find ways to harness those gifts in your everyday career choices."

Antoinette Thomas, RN, vice president and nurse executive at solution provider Oneview Healthcare. "We have two ears and one mouth, we should use them accordingly. Take action. Only use words when absolutely necessary.  Lead by example. Give your team what they need, not what they want. Commit to active mentoring. Share knowledge. Volunteer in your community."

Editor's note: This article was updated March 16 at 9:54 a.m. CT to include additional advice. 

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